NHL Playoffs: Top Five Candidates For MVP Thus Far

May 5th, 2010 No Comments

Admittedly, writing on an article on the NHL Playoff MVP is a tad premature. That said, given all the quality showings thus far leads me to believe that for the first time in a long while there will be plenty of competition for the coveted Conn Smythe Award.

Originally award in the 1964-65 season, we have seen a fair share of hockey legends take home the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Legendary Montreal Canadiens forward Jean Beliveau took home the coveted prize in 1964-65—later joined by 21 Forwards over the years including, but limited to, Guy Lafleur, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and, most recently, Evgeni Malkin in 2008-09.

A total of nine defensemen have had their name engraved on the Conn Smythe Trophy, including, but not limited to, Serge Savard, Bobby Orr, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens and, most recently, Scott Niedermayer.

Comparatively, a total of 11 goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe, including, but not limited to, Roger Crozier, Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Billy Smith, Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall and, most recently, Cam Ward in 2005-06.

Once upon a time it was very tough for a goaltender to win the Conn Smythe, most recently a total of three goaltenders have won the award in the past eight seasons (remembering 2004-05 was a lockout year), making it more likely a goalie will win.

This NHL Playoff season has seen a number of great players emerge including the San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger who, despite his teams recent struggles, has played extremely well.

So, who are the top candidates for the Conn Smythe this playoff season? Check out the slideshow—you might be surprised which players have made the top five (thus far).

Dan Boyle: Defenseman, San Jose Sharks—

Averaging just under 27:30 in icetime on a nightly basis, Boyle is proving his worth through solid defensive play and through solid offensive contributions.

Boyle has amassed nine points (best in the league amongst D-men), a plus/minus rating of +four (sixth amongst D-men), has registered 28 shots on goal (second amongst D-men) and has also registered a power play marker.

His contributions are one of the main reasons the San Jose Sharks are up three game to none on the mighty Detroit Red Wings where Boyle has been a consistent contributor  in all zones.

Continually asked to play against his opponents best lines, Boyle rarely gets a shift off. His ability to make quick decisions and push the play combined with his veteran presence has made a huge impact on the Sharks success thus far.

Like every player on this list Boyle has a long way to go before he will have won the critics over for the Conn Smythe, clearly he is a leading candidate to this point.

Sidney Crosby: Forward, Pittsburgh Penguins—

Love him or hate him you gotta love what Crosby brings to the rink every night. Despite a tough start to the Penguins series against the Montreal Canadiens Crosby still leads the NHL in points (16), assists (11), is ranked seventh in faceoff percentage (a badly needed skill in the playoffs) at 57.5 percent and he has exhibited a number of highlight reel plays throughout the playoffs.

Even when Crosby is having a bad game, such as his effort in game three of the Montreal series he somehow finds a way to contribute. It was Crosby who was screening Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak on Malkin’s goal, without the screen, there is no goal.

Needless to say Crosby has all the tools to win the Conn Smythe, it eluded him last season, perhaps this will be the year?

Joe Pavelski: Forward, San Jose Sharks—

Joe Pavelski’s play may very well be the surprise of the 2009-10 NHL Playoffs. Pavelski, who had nine points in 19 career playoffs games coming into this Playoff season has already registered Nine goals (first in the league), 15 points (second in the league) and a plus/minus rating of +8 (second in the league).

Given his bloated statistics Pavelski may very well be the odds-on favorite to bring home the coveted Conn Smythe Trophy. A berth to the Stanley Cup Finals and continued success offensively will go a long way in determining his fate.

Jaroslav Halak: Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens—

It’s been a longtime since we NHL fans have witnessed a playoff performance like Jaroslav Halak’s.

Halak was largely responsible for the Montreal Canadiens round one upset of the Washington Capitals as he almost singlehandedly beat the NHL’s most potent offense, both five-on-five and on the power play.

Halak’s heroics have elevated him from on again/off again starter to that of legend in Montreal. Clearly, Halak is in the zone, as backed up by his tremendous numbers which included a league-leading .933 save percentage and the sixth best goals against average at 2.49—this despite the Canadiens giving up the second most shots against (314) in the playoffs thus far.

If Halak can keep it going he will be tough to keep from brining home the Conn Smythe.

Tuukka Rask: Goaltender, Boston Bruins—

As good as Halak has been thus far, Tuukka Rask might just be that much better.

Hampered by a team that struggles to score goals and is horrific on special teams, Rask has needed to be near perfect to get the Bruins to where there are—up two games to none over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the playoffs.

Rask doesn’t lead NHL goaltenders in any one category, that said, when you look at all the numbers, Rask’s are off the hook. Through eight games Rask has compiled a record of 6-2 with a .922 save percentage (fifth overall), a 2.32 goals against average (third overall), has faced 255 shots (third overall), has made a total of 235 saves (third overall) and has been a clutch goaltender throughout these playoffs.

Rask has given up just two power play goals through eight games and is yet to give up more than three goals in any one game thus far.

If Rask’s numbers are not impressive enough for Conn Smythe consideration I don’t know who’s are.

If the Bruins make it as far as the Stanley Cup Finals the Conn Smythe Award may very well be Rask’s to lose. If anyone doubted his regular season performance where he led the NHL in save percentage (.931) and goals against average (1.97), there is no doubt now—this kid is for real!

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